Thursday, November 15, 2012

Low IQ LouAnn

I don't want to seem unkind, and I know I often do when I rant here about this or that student.  But I just have to write something about LouAnn.  Low IQ LouAnn.

Have any of you had students like her?  She could only show up in places like my CC, where we have no entrance requirements.  If she were not enrolled in my Comp II/Lit class, I would think she was adorable and sweet.  Because she is adorable and sweet.

LouAnn, you sit in the front row, and look at me with enthusiasm while I lecture.  Or at least, you did, in the beginning, while you still had hope.  It took me a while to get the fact that God left you out when he was doling out smarts. I don't know why this happens, LouAnn. I don't know why some people are simply not born with the ability to think complex thoughts.  But I know it is real.  I know that IQ matters.  I wonder what your IQ might be, and I think it might be 80 or less.


LouAnn, you cannot ask me questions that will help you, because your understanding of my assignments or exam questions is so limited, you have no idea what to ask.  You do not understand when I try to feed you the right questions. When you came to see me during my office hours to tell me you could not understand this most recent assignment, my office mate looked sadly at both of us and mouthed "I'm sorry" at me as I sat down next to you.  How to help, what to say? You don't understand anything.  You try so hard.  You want to understand so badly.  But you don't get it.  You tell me you want to work with the poem "Harlem" for your research essay.   "Okay," I say, "let's look at it.  How does Hughes express his anger, his frustration in this poem?"  You look at me blankly. You have no idea what I mean.  "Do you see," I ask, "the similes we talked about in class?  Do you see the metaphor at the end?"  I try to walk you through it.  You are not getting it.  This is very simple stuff.  This is stuff we talked about on the first day of the poetry unit.  LouAnn, you already came to see me about this exact thing, three weeks ago.  But I know why you are back....you didn't understand, you still don't understand, and the assignment is going to be due soon.  LouAnn, you are going to fail your exam big time, and you do not understand this research essay at all.    I realize I have been sitting quietly, just waiting and thinking sadly about your situation.  I wonder again who gave you a C in your Comp I class.  I'd like to kill that person.

You brighten just a little.  "Did you say you wanted us to find a book?"  I droop.  "Yes, LouAnn, you do need to use at least one non fiction book from the library for this assignment:"  "A book about something....about Harlem?"  Your voice lilts up at the end of this question, hopefully.

You are not a fool, LouAnn.  You are not being difficult.  You are not lazy.  You are simply not bright enough to be here. You are not deserving of being mocked. I am not mocking you.  I am very sad about you.  I cannot understand what it is about our society that forces people like you to come to college, that encourages you.  Who told you "you can do it if you work hard enough!"  Who told you that?  Because it is a nice idea, but it is not always true.

35 comments:

  1. Well, as long as she's paying tuition, the college is happy. As long as she's in college, she's doing what society tells her is the only way to self-improvement and out of getting or staying in a zero-skill, dead-end job: "You must go to college." So more than likely, everyone around her - friends, colleagues, family - are encouraging her to stay the course. They are likely proud that she is college and think it's just grand. She might be the first in her family to go. Or maybe everyone in her family has gotten higher education for several generations and there is simply no other option on their radar screen. This person needs vocational or on-the-job training and occasional cultural enrichment through museums, music, community adult education offerings, etc. In Germany they have the "Volkshochschule" - low-intensity, middle-brow evening classes with no homework about things of general interest, often but not always including some academic topics or languages. That is an option for people who don't just want to be dullards and spend their evenings in front of the TV, but who simply aren't university material, for financial or cognitive reasons.

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  2. Oh my Lord, Bella, I am having the exact same problem at my CC. I've had this problem before, but never, ever, at this magnitude. Usually, I can find some way to work with these students, even if it's just that they fail every paper and revise it six thousand times, eventually bringing their writing up to some semblance of literacy. This time, though, I'm at a total loss. This particular student does.not.comprehend. anything.

    She can't follow simple directions, is incapable of seeing things metaphorically/abstractly, misinterprets material in a way that is truly astounding...and her writing skills---it pains me to even talk about them. Compounding the situation is her behavior; though I have bent over backwards to help her (encouraging her to come to office hours, even offering to come in on my days off if that would help her, suggestion after suggestion, allowing her to revise, etc.) she recently went to her advisor and said "My instructor is not helping me AT ALL." Sadly, though, even if she were the most dedicated student on earth, it wouldn't matter. There's just nothing I can do for her.

    I would also like to slap the people before me that shoved this student through. What's probably going to happen is that she'll fail my class and take it again w/someone "easier" next semester--they'll shove her through, and the cycle will commence. The whole thing is wretchedly depressing--sometimes CC is like watching a big dumb snake choking on its own tail.

    At least your post made me feel a tiny bit better, though--definitely sharing your misery...

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    1. "The whole thing is wretchedly depressing--sometimes CC is like watching a big dumb snake choking on its own tail."

      A sadly apt image.

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  3. Ms. Thrope is right -- the cycle is bound to keep going once she passes the course (which she will eventually), and as long as the tuition is paid the CC will be fine with having her around. Sad all around...surely these students have some hidden potential that's being squandered this way. College is not the only path to a better life.

    As in many other countries (I think Germany is one of them) the primary determining factor in who goes to college in the country where I work is a nationwide exam. Those who don't cut the mustard on the exam would never find a place in university, no matter how much money they might have (rich families in this situation could just send their kid to a US or Canadian school). This exam-based system has all kinds of problems, but it certainly puts limits on the kind of problem Bella describes. There may be worthy kids who get cut out this way (although they can retake the exam the following year), but on the job I have yet to meet a kid whose basic intellectual fortitude falls notably short of the mark.

    But where I work, the major twist on this issue would be the students who seem bright enough, but whose English language capabilities are sorely lacking for university study at an English-medium school. In addition to the national exam rankings, everyone is supposed to pass some kind of language proficiency test before coming into the ranks of full students. If they can't do it right out of high school (and those educated in public schools can rarely get their English up to snuff before graduating), then they can take up to 2 years in language school purgatory before entering university. I have no idea how some of them make it into my class.

    I have one student who has managed to convince hirself that I am secretly fluent in Capybara and just refuse to show it. S/he will come up to me with a question after class and pose it in rapid fire Capybara, forcing me to choose either passive or aggressive means of cracking down. Neither method has precluded hir from doing the exact same thing again the next time s/he bothers to shows up to class (which - surprise! - is a rare occasion).

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    1. As a grad student, I was told to go easy on non-native speakers. I finally drew the line when a student submitted an 8-page paper with (I kid you not) zero verbs. It wasn't just incomprehensible: it actually lacked the minimal grammatical structure needed to qualify as communication.

      The student ended up failing the class and crying in my office. Hir parents were very strict, and s/he said that s/he would be disowned (or worse) for failing. I have never wanted to pass a student along more than I did then; it still pisses me off that people put their kids in this terrible situation, and that our schools eagerly let them.

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  4. Not just the CCs-- the middlin' state college I'm at it is 50% transfer students from those CCs. I teach the most traditionally academic courses in my department, which has some. . . somewhat applied/vocational tracks (which appeals to the less academically inclined, although challenging in its own way), and, gosh, I feel for some of these people. They're great humans, but this is not the best place for them. For some of them, no amount of hard work and tenacity is going to fix it and there are so many other worthwhile directions to go in that would better suit their particular talents.

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  5. I am teaching, and have taught, in schools that admit people like "Lisa." As Dr. Lemurpants, those schools include not only community colleges, but also low- to mid-level state schools, the less-selective private colleges and for-profit institutions.

    As long as there aren't jobs that can be done with low levels of academic skill but still pay well enough to support a person (let alone a family), and as long as student loans are available to any high school graduate with a pulse, we will see more "Lisa"s in our classes.

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    1. Yep. The interesting thing is how many of these students with low levels of academic skill/ability think they are going to medical school.

      "Did you take physics or chemistry in high school?"

      "No, the guidance counselor said it would bring down my GPA."

      Well, it's sure bringing down your GPA now, dude!

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    2. Mea culpa. I mean to include "pointed out" after "Dr. Lemurpants" in my second sentence.

      Well, at least the Beaujolais Nouveau was really good!

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  6. I feel like an absolute bitch when I have these students in my classes. My heart aches and I want them to succeed, but what these students really need are one-on-one tutors. Trying to learn a college-level amount of material in a short period of time just sets them up for failure, which reinforces their own beliefs that they are failures. (I get a lot of first generation college students in my class who often feel like failures and do not have family support to pursue higher education.)

    If it were a community enrichment class, I'd throw out grades in a heartbeat. I'd work on the practical applications of my discipline. My course provides transfer credit to local four-year institutions. I hold the line. I have to, because in my former employment, I would have students snarl and snap at me, "But [this subject] wasn't so hard at my community college." I make damn well sure my subject is rigorous, even if this is a "Junior College."

    Bella, we have to have our hearts broken I suppose. We have to be kind to the LouAnns of the world. We have to realize that we got lucky and can comprehend the world and its parts in a way that many, many others are not able to do.

    I fear that with all the rumblings of "completion" and "not wasting taxpayer money," the LouAnns of the world will no longer be able to even start chipping away at their limitations. Maybe LouAnn will understand "Harlem" better after your class, and then, perhaps, one day she will read something else and be able to apply those skills from your class.

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  7. A very sad situation. The other major disadvantage of her staying in college (beyond all the ones mentioned above) is that LouAnn, and society at large, isn't getting a chance to figure out where her strengths, or even her preferences, are. Does she have higher emotional/interpersonal than intellectual intelligence (not, apparently, in this situation, but maybe in one where she's less of a fish out of water)? Patience? Persistence? Attention to detail? Kindness? Compassion? The ability to deal well with an emergency/the unexpected? Other talents? Answers to the above would help her determine which of the selection of jobs which don't require a college degree -- day care, home health aide, retail, cleaning, food preparation, assembly-line work where it still exists, etc. -- she could do best and most safely/responsibly. All are, sadly, low-paid, despite their unquestionable usefulness to the smooth running of society. But they do draw on particular skills and talents, and different positions are likely to be satisfying to people of different temperaments (regardless of intelligence). Both the LouAnns of this world and the rest of us will be better off if they are matched to jobs which they genuinely enjoy and are as good as possible at. Such matching doesn't solve the pay/prestige problem, but it does make for other kinds of satisfaction and success that all of us hope to get from our work.

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  8. Large Urban Community College is trying to tackle the LouAnn problem, but one of the biggest obstacles is the faculty. Our admins, seeing the writing on the wall about completion and funding, want to create a special program for the LouAnns of the world, one in which they get taught literacy, numeracy, and job-based skills and, if they make decent progress, can then come into our regular developmental programs or even college-level if they are ready. If they don't, then at least they come out with more education and a credential that they can use for the job market.

    A vocal contingency of faculty is railing against this. They think we are creating an intellectual ghetto from which people will never escape, that we are denying them access to higher education. These same people seem to have no problem with the LouAnns who never find Professor Easy A and rattle around in our developmental ed program, a ghetto of its own, for years, taking the same class four or five times. Some will even go out of their way to pass the LouAnns in the name of social justice, as if giving out the credentials somehow evens the scales. They think we are denying hope to people. Which is worse, false hope or realistic expectations that might include recognizing someone will be great in a customer service position or a factory but not in a job that requires full college-level skills?

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  9. I'm sort of a LouAnn student, different only in that I'm aware of my stupidity. I can still get A's, hold a job that pays higher than most college graduates, know how to stay out of trouble, but I'll always be a LouAnn at heart. If it wasn't for youtube, khanacademy, cheap used textbooks from Amazon.com, I'd be academically doomed. I have a hunch that only a few students really "deserve" to be at university, the rest relying on tricks and techniques which fade away once the student stops "actively" learning.

    Germany's higher education system probably wouldn't let me in, what noble souls!

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    1. My dear Kugel: you have absolutely NOTHING in common with LouAnn. I can tell this with absolute certainty by the 75 or so words you wrote here. You may be a snowflake. You sound like one. But you have no idea what LouAnn is like. You know absolutely NOTHING of which you speak. And I would certainly not say that LouAnn does not deserve to be getting a college education.

      Count your blessings, my friend. People like you piss me off, when I come across them. LouAnn, God bless her, LouAnn makes me feel sad. It is really just not fair.

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    2. My LouAnns don't even know that they're in trouble. That's the problem. They wouldn't even think to go research elsewhere to learn.

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    3. Kugel: As Cynic points out, you know what you don't know (which is pretty much the exact opposite of being stupid), and know how to find a way to learn it if the methods used by your professors don't cut it for you. That's why you're successful in college, and in the larger world. I'm not sure exactly why you feel such affinity with LouAnn, who is in a very different position: so unable to understand college and what's expected that she doesn't know how lost she is, or how difficult it would be to catch up, let alone how she might go about catching up. Maybe you come from a background that offered a less-strong primary/secondary education, and/or less contact with educated people, than most of the people with whom you now work and go to school, so you're having to scramble to fill in some of the educational and cultural background. If so, I admire your initiative in filling in the gaps; it will serve you well (and your somewhat-outside perspective on the circles you're entering will probably, eventually, prove useful). Maybe you just feel that if you were smart, learning wouldn't take as much work or time as it does. That's snowflakey thinking; real learning is hard for everybody, including (perhaps especially) those who eventually earn M.A.s and Ph.D.s, and teach in colleges. If your classmates seem to be doing equally well with less work, they are probably lying (either about how much time they're spending or about how well they're doing), or better-prepared than you and/or taking easier classes than they should. It's also possible that you have a learning disability that makes it harder for you to take in information in certain ways that work well for your peers (if so, you're doing a very good job of compensating in functional ways, a practice which will continue to serve you well).

      Whatever you're doing, it sounds like it's working, so keep it up, and know that you *do* deserve to be in college, and to reap whatever rewards you can from the experience.

      You also might want to google imposter syndrome (or imposter complex); your feelings are actually pretty common (and more of your classmates than you'd guess probably feel the same way).

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    4. Cassandra, you are so kindhearted, thorough, thoughtful and all around wonderful! And correct-----did I say correct?

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  10. When students come along who've passed a previous class, and they're like THAT, I just weep. I always WANT to ask "Who was your FUCKING teacher," but I don't want that information at hand.

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  11. I see a lot of LouAnns each year at my supposedly selective R1. I say "supposedly selective" because although our average ACT is 29.5, we have an (unadvertised) open admissions policy for anyone transferring with CC or branch campus credits. We like to brag about how picky we are, and how we turn away more than half of all people who apply, but numerous LouAnns and LouStans populate my classes.

    My most recent LouAnn, even when working with me and a team of tutors from the writing center, is incapable of producing college-level work. I let her rewrite her first assignment and then bumped the grade up slightly, out of pity. Problem is, most LouAnns are not capable of improving their drafts no matter how hard they work, and this LouAnn is no exception. But I offered the rewrite anyway, and I hated myself for pretending that she can somehow improve.

    This LouAnn also emailed me yesterday about her next paper, wanting to know if she needs to actually quote the text she's writing about. Inside I groaned.

    LouAnn is also shocked by the grades she's getting in this class. She never got less than an A at her community college. She's also getting A's in our university's Hamster Family Studies classes. To her, my class is a total anomaly. Depressingly, she's probaly right.

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    1. If people keep bumping her grades, she'll pass. And therein lies the problem.

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    2. I am aware of this. But for me the job market looms; I really don't need evaluations that say, "Gone Grad does not allow students to revise their work"--especially in a field where the students are believed to be the final arbiters of how well I teach.

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  12. I'd find out who LouAnn's counselor was, make an appointment, and work from there.

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    1. Ah Philip! They would suggest tutoring. She is in tutoring three hours a week. There is nothing to be accomplished by working with Student Services. They are as stumped by the LouAnns as everyone else.

      This spring, we will probably have the "Teach Those Cranes to Fly" lady come back to bolster our spirits.

      http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2012/09/teach-those-cranes-to-migrate.html

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    2. "They are as stumped by the LouAnns as everyone else" is, I think, the answer. Try to make THEM come up with a solution to an a problem that can't be solved. All you can do is to give poor LouAnn an F because you're the teacher and the one who has to give a final grade. THEY'RE the guidance counselors, so let them guide her.

      You've shown compassion and caring 'way beyond the call of duty. You've bent over backwards to give LouAnn all kinds of extra help and support. In spite of everything, she gets an F--and passing her along would be easy enough for you, but would really be doing LouAnn a disservice. Now it's time for someone else to do his/her job.

      Singing to the choir, but it's really time for a come to Jesus meeting with her counselor.

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  13. Reminds me of Math-Ed. When I was a graduate student, I payed my rent by working in the Math-Lab. When having to sit next to a Calculus student solving an integral by using Power-Series, many Math-Ed students would run to a certain faculty member and complain about being intimidated "by all the smart people". It was then decided to allocate a corner of the Math-Lab for these students and the department ended up naming it the "Math-Ed Corner".

    Now, before anyone hollers "sexist" or "mean", let me just say that not every math-ed student was/is a Louanne; just those who used the Math-Ed Corner. They had all kinds of issues with regards to reading comprehension. I'm not saying that people who struggle with math are dumb.

    We had one student approach a tutor with a study guide. Hir complaint was that they didn't know how to tell if the problem wanted them to graph something. The tutor showed them the phrases "graph it" and "graph the equation" in each problem and the student started crying and announced: "I STILL DON'T KNOW HOW TO TELL IF I'M SUPPOSED TO GRAPH!"

    On another occasion, yours truly accidently led one of them to believe that the entire Math Lab was made out of paper. I'm not making this shit up! (When the time is right, I'll post about it.)

    When a group of people have instructions to add a set of numbers and instead, they draw a picture of their asshole, you gotta wonder about the future of elementary school.

    Hang in there Bella! I know, it's frustrating.

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    1. "When a group of people have instructions to add a set of numbers and instead, they draw a picture of their asshole, you gotta wonder about the future of elementary school."

      OMG!! This is so funny! This is SOOOO how I feel!!!

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    2. Was this the same group of students that couldn't find the "hamster's" asshole? That's my favorite analogy of all time.

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  14. I've had LouAnns, including some boomerangs this semester. Of all the comments I agree with, I agree with Cassandra's the most.

    Sometimes I've wondered whether some of my LouAnns are mentally ill rather than unintelligent. When they seem to have clouds over their eyes. When they say they can't see the crucial instruction that's right there in front of them (as in EMH's story about the Math-Ed graphs).

    The last time I had one of those, I stopped trying to tutor her about the assignment and asked if she was having any trouble sleeping. Turned out she was numbed by medicine for schizophrenia. Well, no wonder she couldn't concentrate.

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  15. Oh dear. I have one such person in one of my labs. This is at a university with average admission standards, and the lab is one for a second-year genetics course. I do not know how she passed the prerequisite. I can't wrap my head around how that happened. I had her in another first-year lab (one that was quite easy) and she got an F because her writing was so bad I could hardly make out the point she was trying to make. She has serious problems with some of the basics of writing. For instance, the first letter of a sentence is never capitalized, there are commas all over the place in sets of two or three ,,, like this ,, and I have no idea what to do or say. She will ask me questions about very simple things I went over in class numerous times and I don't think anything I say sinks in. I circle all the mistakes in her assignments and try to clearly explain how to improve but I wonder if there's a real learning disability there. I've had a few students with various anxiety problems, bipolar disorder, and Aspberger's syndrome, but I tend to get a letter from the student disability services office about students like that and how I can help accommodate them. In this case, I don't know what the problem is. Some students are just lazy and turn in work without any proofreading, but I don't think that's the only explanation here.

    What made me want to rip my hair out and weep was when this LouAnn E-mailed me about enrolling in a physiology course I teach without having the proper prerequisites. I told her to come see me about that but she never did. I would have had to have said no. She failed an easier course with me, and decent students who've actually taken the prerequisite course find this particular physiology course a challenge.

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    1. Low IQ is different from a LD because there is, well, there is nothing we can do about it. No way to help. it just is. At least, this is what I was told by our college's LD person in the Student Support Services lab when I went to her about a different LouAnn years ago.

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    2. I should probably note that I realize psychiatric problems (bipolar, major anxiety) and Aspbergers aren't the same as having a learning disability, but they can interfere with a student's learning if there's a bad reaction to medication (fatigue, lethargy) or something similar. Mostly, such students do just fine. I had one seriously anxious student who had actually fainted while trying to give a presentation (not in my class but another), so I did give her the option of writing a paper instead of doing a presentation.

      Of course, some students just aren't suited to university and it does bug me when they end up wasting thousands on tuition before failing out, not to mention the mental distress they go through. Often, it's due to parental pressure.

      Each student at my university is assigned an academic advisor who is supposed to help them find a suitable career path. The problem is that the campus I teach at is a smaller campus of a bigger university and we're being pressured to increase our retention rates. However, it's not in anyone's best interest to encourage very poor students to keep up with something that they're very likely to fail at and that they dislike. There are options beyond university (vocational school and so on).

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  16. I'm with Garnet. I didn't think it was possible, but among the usual run of thoughtless students and students who are so petrified of the subject that they can barely function, I had someone in lab not long ago who literally could not follow written or oral instructions, even if I was standing over hir telling hir what to do. That was one of the most stressful semesters I've ever had; the student was actively dangerous. And... s/he boomeranged. Fortunately, after I refused to have hir in my lab without a student assistant assigned to hir, s/he was persuaded to drop the course.

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